Saturday, July 16, 2011

The importance of communication

I realize I haven't posted here in over a month.... sorry about that. There were many things that have kept and still are keeping me busy, but I'd like to talk about lab communication and what an incredible tool it is.

I have come to realize how valuable this is firsthand because of my situation. Both my old and new labs underwent a major outflux of old students followed by some overlap with new students (more overlap in the old than the new). I was part of the outgoing group in the old lab, and I am on the tail end of the incoming group at the new one. It's a tough time when the lab is in flux, because, as I'm finding, not everything gets passed down. Sometimes we have to reinvent the wheel, or some crucial little step that someone thinks isn't important is left out, and troubleshooting ends up taking forever.

This is where good communication comes in. There are bound to be some things that get lost in transition, but good communication skills can greatly soften this blow. When I am handing down my knowledge, if I observe that someone isn't asking quite the right questions (because maybe they don't know what to ask), I seamlessly volunteer a little extra relevant information ("...and you should also do x, because of y."). This saves time in the long run, because they don't have to come ask me things every 5 minutes and get to try it out for themselves. I never realized I was doing this until I noticed that it isn't intuitive for everyone. I have observed a few other people doing it, though, and it's no surprise that better verbal communicators tend to write better papers and give better presentations. They are able to give sufficient background, put their work into context of what's been done before, and explain what they are doing to solve a specific problem. It sounds easy for some, but it's not for all.

Long gone are the days when scientists could hide in their labs with beakers and flasks. Now, your work has to be explainable, and you've got to sell it.

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